A conceptual framework for democratized mobile learning: Empowering non-technical teachers through visual programming

Ishan Sudeera Abeywardena
Thr University of Malaya

The Android operating system (OS) is currently dominating the smartphone and tablet markets. The Free and Open Source (FOSS) frameworks and ease of use have made Android the most sought after OS for use by mobile device manufacturing giants, such as Samsung, LG and HTC. With thousands of apps available through the 'Google Play' store, Android provides a rich experience to the user and has an app for just about anything imaginable.

The substantial growth of the mobile device market over the past few years has caught the attention of many sectors, including governments, industries and educators. However, the most notable development has come from higher education institutions (HEI) which are investing heavily in developing customized apps to facilitate content delivery, student support, information dissemination, social learning and assessment feedback, combined with learning analytics, to give their students that extra edge in learning. Traditionally, Android app development is a highly specialized field reserved only for software engineers and programmers. However, the growing demand for customized apps has led to the democratization of Android app development through the concept of 'visual programming' (VP). VP is a concept which allows non-programmers to build powerful applications using visual building blocks. It can be best explained as constructing a jigsaw puzzle using fitting puzzle pieces. The leading visual app development platform at present is the 'App Inventor' platform developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA. It has joined forces with Google to provide a robust solution for customized app development for the Android OS.

This paper outlines how the concept of VP, through the exclusively web-based App Inventor platform, can be used to empower non-technical ODL practitioners in their content delivery, assessment and student support. A conceptual framework is introduced which enables teachers to create their own Android apps, use them in their teaching activities and engage students in creating project apps for collaborative learning. The framework is anchored in the ideology of openness where Open Educational Resources (OER) and FOSS are used to facilitate the teaching and learning process. The contribution of this paper is this conceptual framework which demonstrates the steps involved in capacity-building, design, development and deployment of sophisticated customized mobile learning applications. The advantage of this work is the democratization of mobile learning through the empowerment of the ODL teacher.